Friday, July 22, 2016

Benghazi



We watched the Republican convention again on Tuesday night, and I managed to not throw a shoe at the TV, even though I was very tempted to do so.

The big new on Monday, of course, was the speech that Malania stole from Michelle Obama, even though professional speechwriters had crafted a very satisfactory ORIGINAL speech for her.

Both Donald Jr. and Chris Christie brought up Benghazi again, even though SEVEN separate investigations have proven that neither Hillary nor the Obama administration have done anything wrong. The most recent committee, chaired by Trey Gowdy, has lasted two years, and has cost tax payers $7 million. Several members of the committee have admitted that the committee has been conducting a “witch hunt” against Hillary, and Gowdy has been found guilty of altering documents to promote his cause.

Having the mothers of 2 of the victims at Benghazi speak at the convention would have to be classified as a very tacky move, but since the Republicans literally has nothing else positive to say or report, their only option is to bash “the other guys.”

Truth be told, the Benghazi incidentally is entirely the fault of the Republican in Congress.

In 2011, Congress cut $128 million from the administration's request for embassy security funding, and House Republicans cut $331 million in funding for security in 2012, even though Hillary Clinton warned them that it would be a very bad idea.

then ...

Banghazi happened.



Naturally, the GOP is blaming Hillary and Obama.

Clinton's emails have also gotten a lot of attention from conservatives, but exhaustive investigation by both the State Department and the FBI found no wrong doing on Hillary's part. Her two predecessors in the state department also used private email servers, and Gowdy himself STILL uses a private email server while conducting official business.

To put Benghazi in perspective, there were THIRTEEN embassy attacks when George W. Bush was President, and 60 people died. NONE of them were investigated by members of Congress.

Although 90% of the American public knows that we need better gun laws, the GOP trotted out Chris Cox from the NRA to claim that the gun laws are fine just the way they are. It’s good to be concerned about the 4 people killed at Benghazi, but it’s more important to be concerned about the 30,000 people that are killed every year in this country by guns. Even after the worst mass murder in our history occurred recently in Orlando, the Republicans in Congress did NOTHING about gun violence, in spite of the fact that the Democrats in the Senate staged a filibuster, and the Democrats in the House staged a sit in, in an attempt to force a vote.

During the prime time broadcast in Cleveland on Tuesday night, cameras scanned the audience, and revealed the fact that an awful lot of seats were empty. A brave woman carried in a banner that denounced racism, but she was quickly surrounded by a handful of bigoted attendees, who are unlikely to admit that racism exists in the Republican Party.

Even though 97% of the scientists in our country admit that global warming is real, the Republicans still cling to dirty energy. A number of attendees had signs that read “Trump digs coal”. A high percentage of the pollution in our country comes from coal fired power plants. Coal plants are the nation's top source of carbon dioxide, the primary cause of global warming.

If you included the economic costs of coal pollution, you'll discover that it is around $100 billion a year in America.

If you've been watching the Republican convention at all, you've come to the realization that the circus has, indeed, come to town. What was striking about all of the prime time speakers at the convention is that NONE of them (including Trump himself) offered ANY concrete solutions to the problems that we all face. True to form, Trump also stated in his closing address that only HE was able to fix America’s problems.

Several pundits this morning mentioned that they would have preferred his speech in the original German, since its tone was strikingly similar to words that were spoken in Germany in the 1930’s.



Now that the circus has folded up its tent and left town, you’re still going to hear a lot about both Benghazi and Hllary’s emails since the Republican Party is unlikely to come up with much that’s positive before the November election. In fact, if you read the 2016 Republican platform, you’d swear that it was 1956 again, but Ike is nowhere in sight. It’s not exactly an optimistic document. Strangely enough, the 1956 Republican platform reads a LOT like the 2016 DEMOCRATIC platform.

You’re going to hear a lot about both Benghazi and Hillary’s emails right up until Election Day, and even long after President Clinton is sworn in to office. If you want the truth about Benghazi, don’t expect to get if from FOX “news”. Hopefully, this article will be of help to you.

Friday, July 15, 2016

those darn Jews





Sharon just finished reading “Inmate 1818”, written by a Holocaust survivor named Bernard Otterman. The book is actually a compilation of 12 short stories that were inspired by the Holocaust and its aftermath. Like virtually all books about the Holocaust, it makes for very compelling reading. Since Sharon had not previously read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” or Victor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning”, I have both of them on order from the local library. Since Mr. Wiesel just died on July 2 of this year, the reserved list for “Night” is very lengthy. Although he wrote a total of 57 books, “Night” is the one that is best known by the general public.

Although we’re all familiar with many of the details of the Holocaust, the best way to get a strong perspective on the atrocities committed by the Nazis is to visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, or the llinois Holocaust Museum and Education Centerin Skokie, Illinois. I’ve been to both of them, and found them to be very informative. The Skokie museum was especially interesting due to the fact that it houses an authentic railroad car that was used to transport Jews to the various concentration camps used by the Nazis.

If you live on the East Coast, you may also want to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Discrimination against Jewish people started long before the rise of the Nazis. In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain expelled practicing Jews from Spain. Their order was titled the Alhambra Decree, and was also known as the Edict of Expulsion. Jews were allowed to stay if they converted to the Catholic faith, and over 200,000 of them did so. It is estimated that up to 100,000 Jews moved from Spain. The punishment for Jews who did not convert or leave was summary execution.

The origins of the Holocaust in Germany did not actually start in Germany. The origins actually started in the good old USA.

The theory of “the master race” is an outgrowth of the philosophy of eugenics. The modern practice of eugenics emerged in the early part of the 20th century at roughly the same time in both England and America. During that same time period, anti-Semitism was a big problem in America, as exemplified by none other than Henry Ford, whose publication of “The International Jew” in the early 1920’s was an inspiration to Adolf Hitler, who had a picture of Henry Ford on the wall of his office in Berlin. Not surprisingly, the KKK was the strongest in our country in the 1920’’s. The 1923 Konclave in Kokomo, Indiana was the largest ever held in this country, with over 100,000 people in attendance.



Although the second wave of the KKK was the most fervent anti-Jewish group, the current itineration of the group has sworn to uphold “Christian morality”, even though virtually every Christian denomination has condemned the group. The current national director of the KKK a Baptist pastor named Thomas Robb, who was “awakened to the myth of the Holocaust” when he was 13. While still in high school, he was an active member of the John Birch Society, the predecessor to today’s Tea Party.

Henry Ford was far from the only prominent American in America who didn’t like Jews. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh was the public spokesman for the America First Committee, which opposed involvement in the war in Europe. Although Lindbergh never ran for office, an intriguing look at what a Lindbergh Presidency would have been like can be found in Philip Roth’s “the plot against America”.

After Kristallnacht occurred on November 10, 1938, it became obvious to German Jews that they needed to leave the country, but they received little, if any, help from other countries in the world. One of the most glaring examples of world indifference was the voyage of the MS St. Louis,which set sail from Hamburg to Havana on May 13, 1939 with 937 refugees from Nazi Germany. Then, as now, refugees were looked upon with distrust, and Cuba refused to allow the ship to dock there. After being denied entry there, the ship went to the United States, which also refused to allow the refuges to disembark. After Canada also refused to allow the boat to dock, it returned to Germany, where SOME of the refugees were taken in by other European countries. Ultimately, though, more that 200 of the refugees died in Nazi concentration camps.

Although Donald Trump and the FOX network have fanned the flames of Islamophobia in this country, the reality is that more Jews in America are victims of hate crimes than Muslims. According to the most recent date from the FBI, there were 1140 victims of religious hate crimes in our country in 2014, and 57% were against Jews. Muslims amounted to 16% of the total, and other groups (including Catholics) made up the balance. All told, the FBI discovered a grand total of 7164 hate crimes in 2014. Of that total, nearly half were due to bias against race, and 66% of those were due to anti-black bias.

Oddly enough, references about Jews are largely absent from the news today, so why it is important to consider what happened in the past to a religious group that constitutes .2% of the world’s population (14.2 million people)? At its peak in 1939, the world Jewish population was 17 million, but the Holocaust eliminated 6,000,000 Jewish people, bringing the total to 11,000,000. Of the 14,000,000 that are alive today, roughly half live in the United States.

The answer to that question is that the bigotry that condemned those 6,000,000 people to their deaths is still very much alive today, and we need to do as much as we can to contain it. The best way to do that is by voting for the right people.

The Republican National convention starts this week in Cleveland. Although I plan to watch at least a portion of it so that I can watch the chaos unfold, it’s obvious by now that NONE of the Republicans running for office in November should be elected, and Donald Trump is, by far, the worst of the bunch. Any political group that discriminates against people of a certain religion, or discriminate against people because of their skin color, their national origin, their sexual orientation, or their gender, is simply not fit for office.

Shalom

Monday, July 11, 2016

why I don't watch television, part 2



About three years ago, I wrote a short article about the troubles that I’ve had trying to watch television:

this is WAY too complicated

Since I published that article, we have moved from Flagstaff to Tucson, exactly one year ago. Although we retained Century Link as our internet provider, we changed to Comcast for our television network because Direct TV (with the channels that Sharon liked) was no longer available in Tucson.

In February of this year, we BREIFLY switched our cell phone service from Sprint to T-mobile, which was an absolute disaster. I published the gory details of that episode on March 9 of this year. In the end, everything worked out fine. We switched back to Sprint, and both of us now have smart phones, which has made our lives a lot easier.

Roughly three weeks ago, I made the mistake of upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10, which turned out to be another disaster. The net result of THAT change is that the only home computer that I now have is a 9 year old laptop that I borrowed from our son. Fortunately, the brand new router that we got from Century Link gives us Wi-Fi capabilities on our phones, which takes care of virtually all our internet needs. If I need to write a lengthy article, the country library (with its brand new computers) is only about 3 miles away.

Now, back to the television …

In January, I sold our aging surround sound system (which we were no longer using) to the local pawn shop for $200, and used that money to buy a new “smart” flat screen TV for roughly the same amount of money. Sharon wanted to have everything controlled with one remote, so she called Comcast out to the house to guide her through it all.

So far, so good.

The only problem was that we could no longer get the DVD player to work. To fix THAT problem, I had to buy a new DVD player that had HDMI connections. In order to get the DVD player to work, we need to use the Vizio remote that came with the TV (after we have used the Comcast remote to turn it on) to switch to the HDMI2 mode, and then we need to use the remote that came with the DVD player to make it all work.

So far, so good.

Sharon now decided that she wanted to add Netflix. After putting in her password, Netflix did not work.



So..

This morning, she called Comcast and asked them to walk her through the operation of the channel. After they checked the connection on their end, they asked her to call Century Link due to the fact that Netflix needed Wi-Fi to work. On the bottom of our router are three separate combinations of numbers. One is the key/password, another is the WPS pin, and the third is the administrator password. As it turns out, the key/password is the one that we needed. After we finally got THAT number entered correctly, they advised us to call Visio, who finally was able to get Sharon to where she wanted to go. After that, it only took one more phone call (to our daughter) to help navigate through the different channels.

Now that the television is finally working to our satisfaction, we've decided that we are NEVER MOVING AGAIN.!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

the devil made me do it



I’ve never been terribly superstitious about numbers, even though my new bride and I got hit by a deer on our honeymoon – on Friday the 13th. Our first home together was just off of Highway 13 in West Paul, Minnesota, and our first pet was a black cat.

I wrote about triskaidekaphobia more than 7 years ago. The link below will help you explore other superstitions that are given credence to around the world.

do you feel lucky,punk?

Although the Muslim religion is the world’s single most popular religion (with 1.3 billion adherents), Christianity actually has the most in total, (at 2.1 billion) if you lump the 1.2 billion Catholics with the other Christian religions. For a lot of Christians, the number 666 takes on special significance because it is the sign of the devil. The verse confirming that the “number of the beast” is 666 is found (ironically enough) in chapter 13 of the book of Revelations.

For a period of time, my sister’s telephone exchange in Los Angeles was 666 (her full number was 213-666-xxxx). That fact never bothered either one of us, and it’s unlikely that it ever bother too many people in “tinseltown”

However…

The folks who live in the Bible Belt would likely be horrified if “666” somehow found its way into their phone numbers. For a period of time, it did. The town of Reeves, Louisiana (deep in the Bible Belt) actually DID have a 666 area code for a period of time, starting in the 1960’s. After much lobbying by the folks in town, the phone company finally agreed to change the number in 2007 to one that it less controversial – 749.

Here’s a few other little known facts about “the sign of the devil”:

1- on 6/6/06, the average 30 year mortgage in America was 6.66 %

2 – The first Apple computer retailed for $666.66 due to the fact that Steve Wozniak picked the price because it was easy to type with one finger.

3 – If you add up the numbers on a roulette wheel (0 through 36) you’ll discover that they add up to 666

4- When King Solomon was reigning, he collected 666 talents of gold every year (see 1 Kings 10:14) , which works out to about 60 pounds.

5 - In the DaVinci Code, Dan Brown listed the number of panes of glass in the Louvre as 666, which is actually pretty close (it’s 673)

6 – Stanley Kubrick, producer and director of 2001, died 666 days before the start of the year 2001.

7 – Although Chinese people consider the number “4” to be unlucky (because it rhymes with the Mandarin word for death) they actually consider “666” to be a lucky number. As a matter of fact, some people actually pay extra to include the number in their phone numbers.

If the number “666” somehow makes its way into your life, don’t be too concerned about it. There’s always the possibility that it could be a hell of a lucky number for you.

Monday, June 13, 2016

snakes !



Nothing will get your blood flowing faster in the morning than discovering that you have a snake in your backyard - which is precisely what happened to us this morning.

Since our backyard is enclosed, we normally let the cats out into the yard in the morning to get a fresh breath of air before the temperature starts climbing towards triple digits.

This morning, both cats were staring at a "critter" that was under the patio furniture in the back yard. When the critter moved, both cats jumped back at least 2 feet. On closer examination, we discovered that there was some kind of snake curled up under the table. Since Sharon swore that she heard the thing rattle, she called the fire department. In less than 15 minutes, the fire department had come to the house, and successfully removed the snake.

As it turns out, the snake in question was a gopher snake, and it is totally harmless. In fact, it is beneficial to have them around since they keep down the rodent population.

In North America, there are 50 species of snakes, and almost all of them are harmless. The correct technical name of the gopher snake is Pituophis catenifer. However, there ARE some snakes that you definitely want to avoid.

The 4 types of poisonous snakes are the Copperhead, the coral snake, the cottonmouth, and the rattlesnake.

They look like this:

copperhead



coral snake



cottonmouth



rattlesnake



Although the cottonwood snake is normally found in the eastern parts of the United States, the other three can be found throughout the country. If you encounter any of these critters, the best thing to do is to move away from it, or to let it cross the path of the trail you are hiking on before proceeding.

If you happen to see one in your back yard, the safest alternative is to simply call the fire department.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Lock ‘em up and throw away the key …



I watched a few of the early Republican debates, and a few of the early Democratic debates, but lost interest after that. If you had the stamina to watch every single debate, you would have discovered the main topics for each set of debates, some of which actually matched.

On the Republican side, the 7 main issues were as follows:

1 - Donald Trump’s debate appearance

2- the candidate’s Christian faith

3 - the Iran prisoner exchange

4 - terrorism and the Islamic State

5 - the economic recovery

6- immigration

7 - supporting the eventual nominee

On the Democratic side, the main topics were as follows:

1 - the Iran prisoner exchange

2 - Sander’s general election viability

3 - Benghazi and the “13 hours” movie

4 - national security

5 - terrorism and the Islamic State

6 - gun control

7- climate change and energy

8 - Clinton’s ties to Wall Street

We’re all going to have differences of opinion about which topics are more important. In my opinion, someone‘s Christian faith is absolutely unimportant, but I AM concerned about gun control and climate change. You may well have different priorities than I do.

If you dug a little deeper, you’d find that there IS one other topic that was discussed in the debates, and that is criminal justice reform. Since the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, it’s a topic that SHOULD be explored further.

As of January 25, the Democratic candidates had mentioned criminal justice reform 28 times during the course of the 4 debates that had been held up to that time. In the six Republican debates that had been held up to that time, it wasn’t mentioned at all.

Why is prison reform so important?

The January 3, 2016 edition of the New York Times contained a column that was titled, “How to Help Former Inmates Thrive”:

The article is worth reading in its entirely, but the most compelling statement (by a former prison) is this:

“I don’t understand why over the 18 year period of my incarceration, over $900,000 was paid to keep me in prison, but when I was paroled, I was given $200 and told “good luck”.

I’ve managed to avoid incarceration my entire life, but an innocent prank by my then 18-year old son caused him to spend a night in jail, and to be charged (briefly) with committing a felony. The truth is that it’s actually easier to become a felon than you might think.

In 4 states (Arizona is one of them) possession of ANY marijuana at all is automatically a felony.. 10 states, and the District of Columbia, have removed felony possession of marijuana from their books, and a few other states have removed felony convictions for possessing only minor amounts. Surprisingly, even in states that have legalized recreational marijuana (like Oregon and Colorado) you can still be convicted of a felony if you possess over a certain amount of the stuff.

Believe it or not, the discussion of felonies actually affects all of us, since it leads to two related topics:

1 - should felons be allowed to vote ?

2 - should felons be allowed to own guns?

With respect to voting rights, it may surprise you to know that most states allow convicted felons to vote. In most states, felons can’t vote while they are serving their sentence, but Maine and Vermont actually allow felons to continue voting even when they are in prison. Virginia is one of a nandful the states that required governor’s action or a court order to restore voting rights, but on April 22, Governor Terry McAuliffe, signed a bill that restored voting rights to convicted felons.

Wayne LaPierre, whose headquarters is in Fairfax, Virginia, is one of the conservatives who was less than enthusiastic about Governor McAuliffe’s recent action, and there’s a reason for that.

Although “people of color” make up 30% of America’s population, they account for 60% of those imprisoned. Since people of minority races are far more likely to vote for Democrats (who generally are in favor of strong gun control laws) allowing more convicted felons to vote translates into fewer voters who support the NRA.

LaPierre, naturally, thinks that more convicted felons should be allowed to own guns. Although the 1938 Federal Firearms Act prohibited felons from owning guns, there ARE some exceptions to the rule,.

Any attempts by the administration to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them (like domestic violence abusers) is looked up with horror by the NRA.

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban of 1996 bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence. The key word here, though, is “convicted”. Only 16 states take away the guns of alleged domestic abusers after the imposition of a court imposed restraining order. Those temporary restraining orders, unfortunately, often become a death sentence for the women who sought protection.

There is no question that there are some very nasty people in our nation’s prisoners (two of whom are pictured below) , but it’s also true that there are an awful lot of our current prison population that should not be there at all. Currently, there are four states Oklahoma, Mississippi, Delaware, and Louisiana that have a higher incarceration rate than any nation on earth.







Naturally, it costs a LOT of money to keep all those people in prison, so it simply makes sense that reducing the prison population would save states a LOT of money, which could be used for far more productive uees. In 2014, voters in California passed Proposition 47, which re categorized some non violent offenses as misdemeanors rather than as felonies. As a result of the proposition, the state was able to reduce its prison population by 13,000 people, which saved the state $150 million in incarceration costs.

Unfortunately, not enough states are smart enough to follow California’s example. If you added up what all 50 states on incarceration each year, you’d come up with somewhere between $43 billion and $74 billion.

That’s just dumb.

The private prison industry, naturally, has a vested interest in keeping as many people locked up as possible. One of those companies, the Corrections Corporation of America, made a profit of $1.7 billion in 2010, Another private prison company, the Geo Group, made a profit of $1.2 billion the same year. In order to protect their cash cow, the private prison companies spent a LOT of money on lobbying expenses. In 2010, CCA spent $18 million buying the votes of friendly legislatures.

Most people are smart enough to realize that investing money in education is the best way to grow a state’s economy. Sadly, most Republicans aren’t that smart.

Last spring, the Arizona legislature cut $104 million from the budgets of the state’s universities.. In that same “austere budget”, the legislature somehow found enough money to INCREASE spending on corrections by $20,000,000.

Arizona is far from alone in its misplaced priorities, since there are 11 states that spend more money on prisons that on higher education. Arizona is one of those 11 states.

The existence of a prison system that is too lenient doesn’t adequately protect society as a whole, but it’s also true that the “tough on crime” approach advocated by some folks doesn’t work either.

The “toughest sheriff in America (Joe Arpaio) is famous for making prisoners wear pink underwear and sleep in tents during Arizona’s summers. However, from 2002 to 2009, violent crime in Arizona decreased in all police jurisdictions except one, Maricopa County, where violent crime INCREASED by 58%.

Over the years, Sheriff Joe has cost Arizona taxpayers over $150 million in defending him against lawsuits. Although he has stated publicly that he plans to run for a sixth term in November, the fact that he was recently found in contempt of Federal Court may dampen his plans.

If you STILL think that it’s smart to “lock ‘em up and throw away the key“, I have some advice for you.

Take a deep breath, count to 10, and read the article again. If that doesn’t work, try this.

Take a deep breath, count to 10, and read the article again.

Eventually, I think that you’ll catch on.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

OLD FRIENDS / BOOKENDS



The song, “Bookends” was written by Paul Simon in 1968, and became both the first and last song on the first side of the fourth Simon and Garfunkel album, also titled “Bookends”. It’s a very pleasant song to listen to, which you can do by clicking on the link below:

YouTube to the rescue

If you think that the duo look a bit young in the link shown above, you’re absolutely correct, since they were both 26 when the song was recorded.

Paul Simon was born on 10/13/1941, and Art Garfunkel was born on 11/5/1941, which means that both of them have ALREADY discovered how “terribly strange it is to be 70“. If you’d like to see what these two music icons look like at the age of 74, take a quick peak at the pictures below.





William Shakespeare, of course, figured out how terribly strange it was to be 70 a long time ago, since Act II - Scene VII - (The Forest) of “as You Like It” details the “7 ages of man”.

The lyrics to “Bookends” have become more significant as we’ve gotten older, since we already have friends (and relatives) who have reached, or surpassed, that age. Here’s the lyrics:

Old friends

Old friends

Sat on their park bench like bookends

A newspaper blowin' through the grass

Falls on the round toes

Of the high shoes

Of the old friends

Old friends

Winter companions, the old men

Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset

The sounds of the city sifting through trees

Settle like dust

On the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today

Sharing a park bench quietly?

How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends

Memory brushes the same years

Silently sharing the same fear

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They're all that's left you

I’m not a septuagenarian yet, but I’m an awful lot closer than I used to be.

There was a time, of course, when people who were 70 were considered to be absolutely ancient, but the Baby Boomer generation apparently operates on the belief that we’re all gong to live forever.

In addition to Simon and Garfunkel, most of the musicians we listened to during our college years are still performing in their “retirement years”.

In October, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Neil Young will be performing together in Indio, California. Tickets were priced at $395 each, and the concert was sold out in 5 hours.

When the concert starts, the age of the performers will be as follows:

Neil Young - 70

Keith Richards - 72

Mick Jagger - 73

Paul McCartney - 74

Bob Dylan - 75

Ronald Reagan has the distinction of being the oldest person in our country to be elected President. On Inauguration Day of his first term of office, he was 69 years old, but turned 70 less than a month later. On Inauguration Day, 2017, Donald Trump will be 69, Hillary Clinton will be 70, and Bernie Sanders will be 75. As Bob Dylan once sang, "the times they are a changin'".

The guy who played “Dirty Harry”, incidentally, became 86 years old on May 31, As recently as a year ago, he was still working. His latest project, the film “American Sniper”, grossed over $500 million internationally, which made it one of the most successful films that he’s ever been involved with.

Both Sharon and I keep in regular contact with a handful of people that we have known for over 50 years - which brings up a point.

Most of us would consider it desirable to have a nice house, a new car, and a fat bank account, but none of those things are as valuable as something that can only be acquired over a long period of time.

Old friends.